Are You Telling Your Dog “No” Too Often?

By Sarah Hinds Friedl on April 14th, 2023

Whether your dog tends to swipe snacks off the kitchen counter or jump up on you in excitement when you get home, your first instinct might be to say, “No!” But the truth is, this might not be your best tactic when trying to get your dog to stop doing something!

In this article, we’ll talk about why the word, “no,” is becoming a no-no in the dog training world. And what you can do to get your dog to stop the unwanted behavior instead.

Why many trainers are saying “no” to the “no” command
Imagine your friend has asked you to go to the store with them to buy ingredients to make pasta for dinner. You arrive, get a basket, and head to the pasta aisle. So far, so good. 

But when you reach for a box of fettuccine noodles, your friend tells you sternly, “No!” Okay, no problem. You reach for the bowties. “No!” Confused and a little frustrated now, you try another, and another until finally, when you pick up the rigatoni, your friend says nothing and allows you to put the pasta in the basket. 

“Couldn’t you have just told me what kind of pasta you wanted from the beginning?” you ask your friend, thoroughly annoyed. 

This is what can sometimes happen with dog training. Without clear instructions and a deluge of negative feedback, our dogs become confused, less confident, and more resistant to the training process altogether. Instead, it’s much better to think about how you can give your dog that detailed grocery store list with what you actually want them to do.

Signs that you tell your dog “no” too much
Don’t worry, we’re not telling you to throw “no” out the window completely. In certain scenarios, the “no” command can be used effectively in training. But, here are a few signs that your “no” isn’t working:

  • You find yourself saying “no” to the same behaviors consistently. You may feel like you’re on an endless loop of catching your dog in the act, telling them no, and then having to re-intervene every time they show the behavior.
  • Your dog doesn’t respond to “no” until you’ve raised your voice. This is another clear sign that your dog hasn’t learned what “no” means. What they’re responding to instead is your frustration.
  • Your dog stops the behavior momentarily, and then starts again. When your dog has their mind set on something, hearing “no” without offering an alternative will usually not stop the behavior. Try to remember that we’ve bred dogs for hundreds of years to be persistent and hard-working! Unless you replace the unwanted behavior with another task, it’s normal for them to fall back on their instincts.   
  • Your dog completely ignores the “no.” In some cases, a dog who feels confused or frustrated by the “no” command will ignore it completely. This isn’t because they’re being stubborn or rebellious. They may just be waiting for more clear instruction, or be genuinely unaware that you want them to stop.

A new way to think about “no”
If you’re looking to clarify your training techniques with your dog, there are some simple changes that can make a huge difference:

  • Find alternatives to the behavior. Every unwanted behavior that your dog does can be replaced. Jumping up on new people, for instance, can be replaced with teaching them to sit and wait for the person to approach them. Barking at the mailman can be replaced with a “quiet” command. Digging up the backyard can be replaced with other kinds of outdoor play, as we explained in detail in our blog on doggy digging. Even potentially dangerous behaviors, like running into the street, can be replaced by commands such as “come” or “freeze.” So, spend time thinking about what specifically you want your dog to do.
  • Reward the behavior you want to see. When your dog does stop the unwanted behavior, offer them praise, attention, and maybe even a treat. Eventually, they’ll understand that there’s a better incentive to follow your instructions than give into their own impulses.
  • Set your pup up for success. It’s helpful when phasing out unwanted behaviors to control the environment. For instance, if you’re training your dog to stop eating out of the trash, you’ll want to limit your dog’s access to the kitchen unless you’re actively training or your dog has become 100% reliable around the trashcan. Another example would be installing BreezeGuard Screens in your car instead of telling your dog “no” when they stick their head out of the window.
  • Be proactive with training instead of waiting for the bad behavior to appear. Dogs learn faster when you give them dedicated time for training rather than waiting to catch them in the act. Let’s say you’re trying to train your dog not to jump on people. Arrange to have a friend over who can repeatedly walk in the front door while your dog practices remaining seated. That way, your dog will have practiced what you want them to do the next time you have guests over and can’t focus completely on your dog.
  • Use no as a redirection technique. Throughout the training process, your dog is going to make mistakes. Saying “no” in a neutral tone can be a way for you to give your dog another opportunity to make a better choice. Just make sure that you remind them of the command you want instead and reward them for doing the right thing. 

Are you ready to say “yes” to your dog more often than “no?”
Over time, you’ll find that when you make this shift in your training tactics, “no” will naturally become less common in your vocabulary. This is a good thing! It means that you’re using clear, effective commands for your dog. So, if you find yourself saying “yes!” or “good choice!” to your dog more than “no,” you can be sure that you’re communicating more effectively with your furry friend. Good job! 

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